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Santa Maura is the modern day island of Lefkas located in the Ionian sea. It is one of the seven Ionian islands; Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Kephalonia, Zakynthos, and Kythira (Κέρκυρα, Παξοί, Λευκάδα, Ιθάκη, Κεφαλλονιά, Ζάκυνθος, Κύθηρα). The island was called Santa Maura by the Venetians.

In classical Greece, Lefkas or Leucas, left little historical record. It received brief mention by Herodotos as an ally of Athens at the battle of Salamis 480 BC. Following the Roman conquest of Greece in 198 BC, Lefkas remained an insignificant corner of the empire. [1] In 31 BC the Battle of Actium between Mark Anthony and Octavius Caesar, took place off the island’s north coast.

In the Byzantine period, Lefkas again faded from historical view until the crusades of the 11th. and 12th. centuries. The sack of Constantinople in 1204 brought the Ionian islands to Venice. In 1293 Lefkas was given as a dowry to the Orsini family who as Counts of Kephalonia were subjects of Venice. It was the Orsini family which built the fortress of Santa Maura at the isthmus to protect the island. The island remained a Venetian possession until 1479 when it fell to the Turks. It remained under Turkish control until 1684 when the Venetians regained control of the island.

Napoleonic period

Napoleon’s conquest of Venice in 1797 incorporated Lefkas into the French state. In 1798 a joint Russo-Ottoman force under Admiral Ushakov evicted the French. The Russo- Ottaman allies sought to establish an island republic of the Ionian islands, the Septinsular Republic. The project failed as the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 returned the island to French rule. In 1809, the British captured Kephalonia, Kythera and Zakynthos, and took Lefkas in 1810. [2] Lefkas remained under British rule and subsequent protection asThe United States of the Ionian Islands until it was incorporated in the new Greek state in 1864.

In the canon

Santa Maura appears in Treasons Harbour and The Ionian Mission to provide historical context to the narrative. In TH, Aubrey in command of the Surprise delivers a convoy from Malta to Santa Maura. Their course brings them in sight of Ithaka which O’Brian uses to humorously contrast the characters of Aubry and Maturin. As the mythic home of Ulysses, Maturin is eager to “ bear away for the sacred spot” but is chagrined by Aubrey’s strict adherance to his sense of naval duty and limited appreciation of classic literature. In Aubrey’s view “ the fellow was no seaman.. but with no more than log, lead, and lookout, an officer-like commander would have found his way home from Troy a d-d sight quicker than that. Hanging around in port and philandering, that was what it amounted to, the vice of navies from the time of Noah to that of Nelson. “ Aubrey concludes: “In any case, he was here to conduct his convoy into Santa Maura, not to gape at curiosities.” [3] O’Brian frequently places his characters in situations of mutual miscomprehension to provide humour and underline their essential characters.

Santa Maura is the source for the rich scarlet coloured cloth which Aubrey's seamen use for waistcoats for their shore-going rigs. After a period ashore in Malta while the Surprise refits, an inspection reveals them berefit of all their everyday clothes save for their shore going finery. [4] The crew's donation of "the famous silky crimson cloth from Santa Maura" also clothes Laura Fielding after her flight from Malta aboard the Surprise. [5] The character of Laura Fielding stands in contrast to Diana Villiers hence the colour may also have a symbolic significance which also contrasts with the blue usually associated with Villiers.


  1. Nonetheless, Roman engineers first dug the canal across the isthmus connecting the island from the mainland. The canal provided a shorter and safer passage down the island’s leeward side.
  2. HMS Warrior landed 1,900 soldiers under John Oswald on Kephalonia, causing the immediate surrender of the island's garrison. The nearby islands of Zakynthos and Ithaca quickly followed. In March 1810, HMS Magnificent, HMS Montagu, and HMS Belle Poule landed a British and Greek force on Santa Maura under John Oswald. He successfully beseiged the fortress and secured the island.
  3. TH, omnibus HC edition, Norton, page 3157
  4. TH, omnibus HC edition, Norton, page 3024
  5. TH, omnibus HC edition, Norton, page 3209
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